Big 12 officials, including interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, expressed optimism Friday that a proposal to turn over each school's ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports television rights to the league for six years will solidify the league as a nine-member nucleus.
Texas officials, who previously balked at signing away TV rights, are now open to the concept -- as long as it is limited to a six-year window -- league sources confirmed Friday.
Missouri, another possible roadblock to league stability, has sent mixed signals about its intentions. Neinas acknowledged he is "concerned" about the school's interest in joining the Southeastern Conference but said Chancellor Brady Deaton led him to believe Missouri is going to stay with the Big 12.
If not, Neinas said the league "can be viable" in efforts to expand from eight teams -- with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the mix -- because there would be a lot of strength left in the conference.
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Turning over the TV rights, which is common in other leagues, means each school would assign its primary TV rights to the conference for six years. If any school departed within those six years, its TV rights would remain with the Big 12, making that school unavailable for telecasts in its new league.
"Hopefully, doing that can solidify the foundation of the conference," Neinas said. "We've got to make sure there's a trust that exists between members to make the conference go."
Asked if he could facilitate that trust, Neinas said: "I can try."
The Big 12's next step is expanding to a 10-member or 12-member configuration, depending on the desire of administrators. Oklahoma President David Boren said he favors a 12-member league. Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds said he prefers a 10-school configuration.
Neinas, 79, said most league officials seem to think 10 is the ideal number but those details will be discussed, along with the identities of the most attractive expansion candidates, in the near future.
Big 12 officials have held preliminary discussions with Brigham Young, an independent in football, about joining the league. Other schools on the expansion radar include TCU, Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia. Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said Friday the league could operate as a nine-team entity during the 2012-13 school year, depending on the immediate availability of expansion targets.
Neinas expressed a preference for a conference with a regional flavor.
He also offered a thought about A&M, a school he considers "probably gone" to the SEC but worthy of a campus visit to try to woo back to the Big 12.
"They belong in the Big 12," Neinas said. "That's where their history is... going back to the Southwest Conference. It's where they should stay."
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